By Troy Vincent
NFL Player Engagement
Former Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans tight end Mark Bruener takes his responsibilities as a scout for the Pittsburgh Steelers very seriously. And he will be the first one to tell you all the specific reasons why it is important that he does.
After all, when it comes to the pivotal role and responsibilities of a scout for an NFL team such as Pittsburgh, Mark already knows exactly what is at stake.
The 27th pick in the first round of the 1995 draft played in the NFL for 14 years, and when it comes to matching up talented athletes with the right team, this Steelers scout knows firsthand how important the scouting process can be to both the team and the prospective players.
He also knows it isn’t easy.
“The toughest part of being a scout is the obvious one. You need to be able to evaluate talent correctly,” the Washington state native and father of five asserts. “There are so many factors that go into the evaluation process of a prospective player. After you have factored everything in, your last and final step is to tap into your instincts and listen to your gut.”
Mark believes that being a former NFL player gives him a significant advantage when it comes to the difficult and often subjective aspects of his job.
“As a former NFL player, I’ve already been where these players are going. I have a pretty good idea what is ahead for them,” said Mark, whose playing experience wrapped up in Houston in 2008. “Part of a scout’s responsibilities is to be able to project, as in envision the kind of player a young athlete will be in the future. Although projection is hardly an exact science, there are certain ways to reasonably predict a player’s potential. Beyond that, I need to rely on what I already know.”
Another advantage Mark believes he has as a former NFL player is that he has the ability to “re-call” the player profiles of those he played with – and against – during his nine years with Pittsburgh and five years with Houston.
“As a college scout, I recognize similar abilities in prospective players I am currently looking at who remind me of certain players I encountered during my own playing experience,” says Mark, who has an extensive database of players consisting of both teammates and opponents he faced during his fourteen years of playing. “Statistically and figuratively, it’s a good way to compare and measure a student-athlete’s performance against a professional ball player without having the benefit of all of them being on the same field at the same time.”
Another benefit resulting from his NFL playing days is that Mark boasts an extensive personal and professional network of college coaches and staff member connections, which he says allows him to ask coaches and college staffers some of the most candid and difficult questions of all – beginning with what kind of person is this player we are considering?
Mark believes that accurate knowledge of off-the-field behavior, as well as access to a 360-degree view of the prospective player’s character, has never been more important to NFL teams, coaches, and owners than it is right now.
“We are a pro team making a commitment to draft a young man,” he says regarding his role with the Pittsburgh Steelers. “There are so many on and off-the-field factors we must consider. Sound character is extremely important. We want to know who this player was in junior high, senior high, what kind of student he is, as well as what kind of teammate he is,” adding that, “We also need to know as much as we can about his family history, including his relationship with his parents. All of it matters to us and is necessary to our overall evaluation.”
Mark admits that he has seen first-round talent drafted later or not at all because of troubling off- the-field character issues.
“All of us know the statistic stating that 90% of the student-athletes that have had serious behavior and character problems in college will have similar problems in the NFL. We don’t want that, which is why we are so diligent about getting to know those we are interested in.”
“Basically, we use the tried and true gauge that reveals to us what kind of person he is when no one is looking. If he passes that character test and his on-the-field performance is where it needs to be, he is someone we want playing on our team.”
Clearly Mark Bruener knows that scouting for an NFL team is more than finding promising players. He believes that it is his job to look for young men who will best represent the Pittsburgh Steelers both on and off-the-field.
“I am always thinking about the team we are working to build,” he explains. “It is extremely rewarding to know that we are recruiting young men who will be given the opportunity to contribute positively to who we are, both in terms of our collective talent as a team as well as our overall character as an organization. I am proud to be part of such a worthwhile effort.”